Stranger Things: Season One S1E8
The title of the final episode of Stranger Things Season One says it all – “The Upside Down.”
In the course of one hour, everything is spun on its head and we are left feeling a host of emotions ranging from sadness to joy as characters make decisions that we least expect. The resolution of it all still leaves unanswered questions and beckons a second season to the screen. Why did Barb die? Why did El sacrifice herself and is she really dead? Did Hopper really make a ‘deal with the devil’ when he gave up El’s location to Brenner, or did he have the upper hand? Is Will inhabited by a Demogorgon baby and will he soon become evil himself? (Seriously… it’s a theory.) Is Nancy really back with Steve (my husband is really not happy about this)? And does Hawkins Lab have any other secrets they’re still hiding?
As a Christian living in an imperfect world, I loved the loose ends and lack of neatness in this final episode. Life itself is often a messy version of what we want to portray in images or postings on Facebook. And the reality is, people are sinful and continue to mess up, especially when they are only looking to themselves and not trusting in the Lord. Is it possible that Hopper really made a horrible choice to sacrifice El in order to save Will? That idea is troubling to consider, but nevertheless, it happens in real life all the time. People that you expect to make good choices sometimes don’t – and sometimes they really don’t.
We end this first season of Stranger Things with ongoing needs, hurts and lack of resolution for many of the characters. In spite of hugging one another, the Wheeler family still is estranged – they haven’t formed any type of closeness that foreshadows future healing. If all goes the same, they will remain separated with walls between all of them. Nancy seems to be following in her mom’s footsteps, settling for a guy who hasn’t quite proven himself to be trustworthy yet (I would not be quick to go back to Steve – he needs to earn it a bit more in my opinion). Jonathan is facing yet another rejection – he’s been rejected by his father, is a loner at school and flat-out abused by Steve’s friends, and he finds himself without Nancy in the end. Joyce is still Joyce – she loves her family, but still has insecurities and loneliness. Will is definitely not back to his old self, as we see a creature spewed from his mouth into the bathroom sink. Barb is gone (sad emoji) and Brenner is too (yay! emoji). We find Mike, Dustin and Lucas back in the basement in another round of Dungeons and Dragons – this time with a thessallhydra. And we close on a scene over dinner with Jonathan, Joyce and Will:
- Mmm. Very good, Mom. Mmm. Hey, Mom. Did Will tell you about, uh, the game?
- Oh, yeah.
- No. What game?
- I threw a fireball at him and [imitating an explosion] dead.
- Wait, what is… You mean… This is…
- No. It’s just Dungeons & Dragons.
- Dungeons & Dragons. Right.
- It’s fun. [theme music starts playing]
Joyce is still fearful and paranoid, having to reassure herself that all is well, and the Demogorgon threat is gone (or is it?)
Perhaps the most interesting character to me and the one I still have the greatest questions about was Hopper. Like many of the characters in this show, he has gone through tremendous character experience and alteration throughout this season. In the epilogue, we find that he and Joyce have gone public about Hawkins, and that the corporation is now under investigation, or at least in the spotlight. Toward the beginning of the series, Hopper appeared as the drunk, rough shaven, disheveled small town cop. Through flashbacks, we saw him as the loving husband and daddy, and later as the grieving father weeping over the death of his daughter. We’ve seen the confident and assuring man risking his life to help Joyce find Will, and also the crazed man pounding out his frustration on Will’s chest (grieving his own inability to save his daughter and fearing he could lose Will too). Ultimately, we find him reporting to the feds (presumably) and delivering some goodies (including Eggos) to a snow-covered wooden box in the forest. My biggest question for Hopper that is lingering in my mind is who does he trust? He knows that bad things happen (he lost his daughter). He knows that good things happen (Will was found). He knows that strange things happen (El had super powers and there was a faceless creature running around). He knows that evil happens (people like Brenner exist). Where does he stand now? Does he know God exists and loves him? Or is he bound to sink back into addiction and loneliness?
The idea of promise comes around once again in this final episode. In a sweet and nostalgic scene between Mike and El, he tells her he wants to take her to the Snow Ball, and through awkward “crushy” teen language tries to let her know that he likes her as more than a sister. El speaks the words, “Promise?”
Later, with the Demogorgon in hot pursuit, Mike offers the same words of comfort to El as she lies drained of her strength on a table at the high school. He reminds her of the Snow Ball and she whispers “Promise?” once again. I believe El knew that this promise may not come to be as she prepared to sacrifice herself to save her friends in a final selfless act. Through shrieks of pain and anguish, she and the Demogorgon disappear amidst a shower of ash. The group is saved, and we find all the show’s characters back in various stages of life again. Will is returned – a follow-through on a promise made by Hopper and others to find him – but we see that it’s not a promise of happily-ever-after. Stranger Things are yet to come.
Fortunately, for the Christian, our ending is assured and is a “happily ever” ending – for eternity. In the Gospel of John, we meet a man named John “the Baptist.” He is preparing the way for someone else whose sandals he (John) is not worthy to untie. John, Jesus’ cousin, knew that there was One coming into the world that would save the world for good – that One is Jesus. John 1:6-14 reads:
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
And so, I feel it fitting to wrap up this series of Stranger Things episode reviews, on the truth of Jesus. He was and is a light bearer, ushering in His kingdom of good. In stark contrast to the dark, faceless quality of the Upside Down world, touting a creature, with slime-covered omens of death and horror in a dark world, Jesus stands as the ultimate light of the world – God Himself. He came as a baby (becoming flesh) and lived on earth, preaching His message of forgiveness, peace, redemption and salvation. He ended his earthly ministry on a cross, in death and resurrection, and left a promise to return (one that He will never break and that we can place full trust in). Jesus was sent from a loving Father and is full (to the brim) of grace and truth. We can trust Him. We can talk with Him. We can follow Him with the assurance that He goes with us every step of the way. He calls us to a Right-Side-Up world both now and forever, where He sits as the just and loving God that He is.
- Why do you think this episode is called the Upside Down?
- What characters surprised you? Why?
- What do you think made Nancy decide to stay with Steve? Would you have made this choice? Why or why not?
- What emotions did you feel throughout this episode?
- Do you feel happy with the ending, or are you wanting more information? What questions still linger in your mind?
- What should the Wheeler family do to become closer?
- How do God’s promises differ or compare to promises made by people?
- Have you put your faith in Jesus? If not, do you want to today? Why or why not?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.